Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
January 6th 2017!! -Volume 7 Issue 11 8th Tevet 5777
I am a speaker. I talk for a living. I always liked to talk, much to many of my teacher’s consternation. The Rabbis in the shul where I davened in the back of weren’t big fans of me either, particularly when I thought that my classmates or fellow congregants would find what I had to tell them to be far more important interesting and certainly funny than whatever messages they were trying to convey from the front of the classroom or the pulpit. I kind of still think I do. Except now it’s the guys in the back of my shul, my classrooms or the hanging at the back of my tours that don’t seem to understand to appreciate how life-changing what I’m telling will be. But at least I have you guys that are reading my E-Mail that are there for me. Don’t you feel blessed?
Upon moving to Israel, I found it challenging initially to have to give weekly sermons in Hebrew. I spoke Hebrew, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a big difference between communicating in Hebrew- Like please pass the chulent, or how much does that shwarma cost, or where is the bathroom and giving a speech in a language that is not your mother tongue. The nuances count, the varying phrases, the slangs those are the instruments, the tools, the apparatuses, the mechanisms in the toolbox, the kit, the cornucopia of the palaver of gifted orator. See what I did there? I don’t even know what a lot of those words mean but they sound good together. They flow. They convey an idea and give me a chance to think about what I’m going to say, as I had a busy week and had no time to prepare my drasha. I didn’t have that in Hebrew. So I learned. I have a few great Hebrew lecturers that I enjoyed listening to. And I would listen to a few of their classes a week and slowly but surely I picked it up. Now I can really say a lot of words that mean pretty much the same thing over and over and sound intelligent until I figure out what ife-changing message I want to say. Or at least what joke I want to share.
But jokes aside I have always been fascinated by oratory. Recently I googled the greatest speeches of all time. Whadaya know Kerry’s recent one didn’t make it to the list. Must have been the Israeli’s faults and the settlements that prevented him from getting that distinction. It was an interesting list. There were the obvious ones of course. Lincoln’s Gettysburgh ‘Fourscore and seven years’ King’s “I had a dream” Churchills “We shall fight on the beaches” and Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death”. There were some that I was surprised I had even heard of Ghandi’s “quit India”, Socrates “ A life unexamined not worth living” speech and FDR’s “Day that will live in infamy”. And there were some that I really didn’t care about much Pericle’s funeral oratory, Chief Josephs surrender address and Lou Gherig’s farewell to baseball. I was kind of surprised that they left out “You can’t handle the truth” by my good friend Jack Nicholson and I am your father by Darth Vader- but what do I know. The most famous one of course on the few lists I perused was of course the “sermon on the mount”- and they weren’t referring to Hashem’s to the Jewish people on Sinai… I wasn’t a fan of that one either. Wasn’t a fan of much what that renegade Rabbi had to say, to be honest, but anyways…
One speech however that didn’t show up on any list which in mine opinion was pretty amazing and certainly should have been added to the list is the longest speech in the entire Torah, given in this week’s Torah portion. And I’m not just saying that because it’s my Bar Mitzva Parsha-although maybe the fact that my BM parsha had the longest speech in the Torah is quite appropriate for me.
The parsha begins with Yehudah approaching Yosef. This was the brother he didn’t recognize that was now the viceroy of Egypt. This was the man before the fate of his brother Binyamin’s life would now hang as he was caught in Yosef’s frame-up with the planted ‘stolen’ goblet. If Yehudah did not succeed in persuading Yosef, the ruler of Egypt, then not only would this leave his father brokenhearted with this last child of his beloved Rachel also being taken from him. But Yehudah had guaranteed and put not only his own guarantee to Yaakov that he would return him on the line, but he promised that if he would not succeed he would lose his life in the eternal world as well. There was a lot on the line. Everything was on the line. The entire future of the children of Israel stood on whether Yehudah could convince, inspire or cajole Yosef into allowing the obviously guilty of high-crimes and misdemeanors Binyamin to be granted a pardon. He was caught red-handed. He had repaid the kindness they had been shown with treachery. It was the impossible speech. And yet it worked.
What did he say? What turned the tide? It’s interesting if one reads the 225 word speech that extends of 16 pesukim/verses, that there doesn’t seem to be much that is new. He shmears him up a bit and tells him that he respects him like my Pharaoh. He spends an inordinate amount of time and ink reviewing the entire story how they came down and were asked about their father and brother. We tried not to convince you that it would be difficult on our Dad and you didn’t give us much choice. Our father was not a fan of the idea, after all he had already lost one son. If we return without my brother my father would be devastated and die and we would be responsible for having brought him down to his grave in sorrow. So far this speech doesn’t seem particularly convincing to Yosef. Would it to you? If I were Yosef I would have said, well it’s your problem. Why should I feel bad that you will feel guilty about bringing your father to his grave.
Yehuda continues and then makes it even more clear his problem. He explains how ultimately it was he who convinced and guaranteed that he would bring him back promising that I would be sinning against him for eternity. He therefore offers himself up in place of Binyamin. That seemingly doesn’t work as well for Yosef. In fact just at the end of last week’s portion they had all offered to be servants and Yosef said only the guilty Binyamin would be held. So why would this make any difference? Seemingly this speech is not going so well.
Yet finally Yehuda pulls out the final card. When he makes this statement the game is over. Yosef can’t control himself. He stops him and sends everyone out and reveals himself. For 22 years Yosef had not ever told anyone his secret. For the past year he has been playing this game with his brothers. He has been longing for his father, his home, his family. He has never broken. But what Yehuda says next changes it all. The house of cards falls.
Bereshit (44:34) “How can I go up to my father and the boy is not with me, lest I will see the evil that will befall my father”
That’s it the next verse said when Yosef hears that he could no longer endure it. What is it about that statement that makes it all happen? The Shemen HaTov ( a great work written by Rabbi Bernard Weinberger who was the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Williamsburgh- who incidentally I took classes from in public speaking and sermons in my Rabbinic training program from the Young Israel-thank you Rabbi Lerner J) suggests that what touched Yosef was when he saw that Yehuda put everything that he personally had at stake to the side. His entire eternity, his olam haba, his own feelings of guilt and he said how can I see the pain that my father will have. That was what turned Yosef’s heart. When a Jew puts their own feelings aside and are able to entirely focus on the pain of another, there is nothing that can stand before that emotion. In truth the Sfat Emet suggests that Yosef perhaps wanted to wait a bit longer before revealing himself. If the brothers would have had a little bit more time to worry, pray , reflect than perhaps the entire sin of selling their brother Yosef down to Egypt would have been entirely atoned for. He even explains that it is for this reason after Yosef reveals himself to his brothers that the Torah tells us he cried on the shoulders of Binyamin and Binyamin cries on his shoulders. Rashi notes that they were each crying about the Temples that would be destroyed and the Mishkan in Shilo that would be destroyed that were in each other’s portion. They were crying over that because it was only because had Yosef held out a little bit longer perhaps they would not have had to have been destroyed. The atonement would have been over. But he couldn’t hold himself back. He saw Yehuda crying over Yaakov’s pain and he himself thus cried over Binyamins future pain and Binyamin cried over his. Perhaps the exile and destruction would be avoided if we could each cry and hurt over each other’s pain. What a speech. What a story.
We live in an era of soundbites, of speechwriters of lots of fake rhetoric that is all about how one can get their own agenda, their own platform and their own mission accomplished. It has left the masses so cynical of the packaged same old-same old that we have reached a point where there is almost no faith in anything that anyone says anymore. Anything we read and even anything we watch or see. We have become deadened and information overloaded. We need a good speech. The world needs a real speech. One that is spoken by someone who can put aside all of their personal aspirations and be focused entirely on the tremendous pain that is out there. The suffering the world has without the light of Hashem. It’s not about us. It’s not even what it is that we say or how we say it. It’s what we feel. If we truly feel enough to daven for it. To cry for the other, to plead on their behalf. That is what will bring the Geula- the redemption. That is the speech from us that Hashem is waiting to hear.
Have an inspirational Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZ COOL VIDEOS OF THE WEEK
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5FRwSQmlBHc -Ani Yosef by Rabbi Mordechai Dubin and a childrens depiction
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mRhX7Jvm3xc – Eli Shwebel Ani yosef
https://youtu.be/e2SAtnKFyHQ – Amazing story about Israeli soldiers!
RABBI SCHWARTZ’S FAVORITE YIDDISH PROVERB OF THE WEEK
“Verter zol men vegn un nit tseyln.” -Words should be weighed, not counted..
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TOUR GUIDE EXAM QUESTION OF THE WEEK
answer below at end of Email
Q. An amphitheater was discovered in:
D. Beit Shearim
D. Beit Shearim
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S ILLUMINATING RASHI OF THE WEEK
If Rashi seems too simple, you have to stop and ask yourself what is he trying to tell me. What am I missing? Rashi is certainly explaining the simple pshat- but at the same time he is explaining something you may have difficulty seeing unless he underlines it and tells you it. In the end of this week’s Torah portion the Torah tells us that people came to Yosef who was in charge of the food and they brought him money the verse says
Beresishit (47:14) And Yosef gathered all the money that was found in Egypt and the land of Canaan with the grain that they were buying and Yosef brought it to the house of Pharaoh
The verse seems simple enough yet Rashi for some reason felt it necessary to clarify and comment.
The grain that they were buying-they would give him the money
What does Rashi want with this comment? What’s bothering him? Who would I think they would be giving the money to? The Minchas Yitzchak, Dayan Yitzchak Yaakov Weiss, suggests an interesting powerful insight. He suggests that the people not only brought money to buy the grain but as well they gave him, Yosef, personally money. You know, a little under the table, some bakshish as is traditional in the Middle East when you want and need to get something done. Yet Yosef turns that money over to Pharaoh as well. Despite the fact that the money was given, as Rashi says and points out- “to him” for his personal use which by right he could have kept. Yet Yosef went above and beyond because he understood that government official and particularly a Jewish one has to always be above any repute or suspicion. Wouldn’t it be nice if some of our politicians today learned from him?
Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Weiss (1902 –1989), known as the Minchat Yitzchak (the name of the responsa he authored), was born in Galicia in 1902. He headed of the court of Jewish law, the Beit Din, in Grosswardein, Romania before WWII, and after miraculously surviving the war he assumed the same position in Manchester, England.
In the aftermath of the Holocaust he worked diligently on aiding the many women whose husbands disappeared, and presumably perished, during the war; finding halachic "loopholes" which allowed them to remarry according to Jewish law.
He authored a nine-volume set of responsa. In this widely-used work, he addresses many modern-day halachic issues which resulted from the technological explosion, as well as many medical ethics issues.
In 1979, he assumed the position of Av Beit Din (Head of Court) in the Edah Hachareidit, one of the most prominent rabbinical bodies in Israel, filling the seat of leadership that was left upon the passing of the Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum who had appointed him to the Beis Din and urged him to move to Israel. He served in this capacity for the remainder of his life.
He passed away on the 11th of Sivan. An estimated 30,000 people attended his funeral.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TYPES OF JEWS IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK
Bar/Bat Mitzva people – Sure you can have your Bar mitzva in America or where ever else you might live, but c’mon we all know as the Ramban/Nachmanides tells us, that the function of all of the mitzvos are really only meant to be performed in Israel. Sure you have to keep them even in the diaspora, as well, but Hashem gave them to us in order to live and create a Torah observant society in Israel that would shine out to the rest of the world from our holy land. So what better place to have a Bar Mitzva. In recent years the Bar Mitzva in Israel has become an entire industry. Every Monday and Thursday when we read the Torah the Kotel is packed with young boys getting escorted to the Kotel with music, fanafare, shofar blowing for their rite of passage into Jewish adulthood. The last few years this has started in Tzfat as well for people who don’t want to shlep to Jerusalem. Wherever you travel around the country you can find tour buses with big signs on them that say something like Michael Greenblatgoldbergowitzes Bar Mitzva or Samantha Rosenstienbaumenthal Bat Mitzva trip. Most of those are usually our Conservative or Reform brothers and sisters who admirably enough want to give their children perhaps the most important and significant lesson that they may ever get in all of their years of schooling; our connection to Eretz Yisrael and its supreme significance to their Jewish identity. I was privileged for many years to offer students that were coming on Birthright trips to Israel an opportunity to have their Bnai Mitzva here for those that have never had one before. Generally we would do this on the top of Masada, which was always a powerful inspiring moment, being that we were standing on the mountain top where the Romans 2000 years prior had thought they had wiped us off the face of the earth. I would of course inform that they for those that were Jewish ( I had to make this disclaimer of course) they were all already Bnai Mitzvahed already. As every Jew upon reaching the age of 12 for girls and 13 for boys become Bnai Mitzva-obligated in all the commandments automatically. However for many of them they have never celebrated or embraced or even tragically been aware of our special heritage and their unique role in it. We therefore would offer them the chance to celebrate and commit themselves to their place amongst the Jewish people. They would do this by taking a Jewish name-their identity card for themselves, or for those that had one to explore it and discuss what inspires them about being part of the Jewish people. We would throw candies, the boys would be given a Kiddush cup, the girls Shabbat candles. It was truly inspiring and amazing with singing and dancing and life changing for many of them. I have also had the privilege and am proud of the many in the Orthodox and even chareidi world that are giving up on the big meaningless and expensive parties in America for the childrens Bnai Mitzva celebrations and instead bringing their families to Israel for a much more meaningful experience. Particularly when they hire a great tour guide to arrange it for them J.
RABBI SCHWARTZ’S RABBI JOKES OF THE WEEK
An atheist complained to a Christian friend, “You Christians have special holidays, such as Christmas and Easter. Jews celebrate their national holidays, such as Passover and Yom Kippur. But we atheists have no recognized national holidays, It’s unfair discrimination.” His friend replied, “Why don’t you celebrate April first?”
Three boys in the schoolyard were bragging about their fathers. The first boy says, “My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he then calls it a poem, they give him $50.00.”
The second boy says, “That’s nothing, My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calls it a song, they give him $100.00.”
The third boy says, “I got you both beat. My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calls it a sermon, and it takes eight people to collect all the money!”
A teacher asked the children in her Sunday School class, “If I sold my house and my car, had a big garage sale, and give all the money to the church, would I get into heaven?”
“No!” The children all answered.
“If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the yard, and kept everything neat and tidy, would I then get into heaven?”
Again, the answer was “NO!”
“Well,” she continued, “then how can I get into heaven? In the back of the room, a five year-old boy shouted, “You gotta be dead!”
Yankel was coming out of Shul one day, and the Rabbi was standing at the door as he always did to shake hands. He grabbed my Yankel by the hand and pulled him aside.
Then the Rabbi said to him, “You need to join the army of the Hashem!”
Yankel replied, “I’m already in the army of the Hashem, Rabbi.”
The Rabbi questioned him, “How come I don’t see you except at Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur?”
He whispered back, “I’m in the secret service.”
So my son was watching me write my weekly sermon. “How do you know what to say?” He asked me
“Why,Hashem tells me.” I humbly responded
“Oh, then why do you keep crossing things out….?”
Answer is A – Theater was a big thing for the Romans. When you have a big empire of lots of murdering, drunk restless barbarians its important to keep them entertained at all times, if you want to keep the peace. They did not have cable TV back then. The next best thing was theater. An amphitheater as opposed to a theater was a full circle theater with seats all around, kind of like our stadiums today. In amphitheaters they would have gladiator fights, executions of criminals, fights against wild and exotic animals, y’know late night TV. The Talmud tells us repeatedly that one should not go to theaters where there would be plays and entertainment, which pretty much tells us that people went-which is why they were warning us not to go. Interestingly enough when it came to executions though there were Rabbis that felt it was important and perhaps even a mitzva to go. One reason to go would be because the fate of the prisoner would often be determined by the jeering crowds and people would be able to cheer to save some of the prisoners. (Personally I think that this would not be a bad idea to implement here in Israel- a much better system than the pathetic court system which seems to sympathize with terrorists and punish Jews-but I digress). Another reason to go would be to identify the executed prisoner in order to permit the wife to remarry. In Israel we have two fully excavated amphitheater which is in Beit Guvrin and Beit Shean. But those are not one of the choices-although maybe they were trying to fool you with the Beit Shearim. There are two more that have been identified in Israel one is in Shechem which despite any UN resolutions is Israel and always has been and should be and of course in Caesarea.